Roy Dabney says he has come a long way by reading the newspapers. Dabney had just finished six years as an Air Force teletype operator in March 1966, and looked through the papers for a job.
No openings for teletype operators were advertised, but the banks were looking for letters and managers.
"Most of the manager jobs wanted five years experience. So I said, "All right, I'll be a teller and get the experience,'" said the 38-year-old Dabney, who is now senior branch manager of the First American Bank of Maryland.
Last July Dabney was looking through the papers again and saw that Prince George's County Democrats were looking for a Bowie resident to fill the seat of county council member Francis G. Francois, who had resigned. To Dabney's surprise, one newspaper mentioned his name as a potential candidate for the job.
Dabney decided to follow up, and last week the county council unanimously named him to fill the remaining two and a half years of Francois term.
Dabney, who is balck, beat out a field of 22 candidates, after more than a month of wrangling by the splintered Democratic leadership. Surprised observers talked of the new political muscle of Prince George's County blacks.
For Dabney, a cool newcomer to county politics, it was another case of taking the right risk at the right time, and taking it in stride.
"A lot of people ask me, 'How can you just stand around and listen to people (congratulate you) when all this has just happened?,'" he said.
"I've always been low-keyed. Inside, of course, you feel your stomach churning, but I've never been an excitable person on the outside," said the soft-spoken new council member in a recent interview at his Langley Park office.
He was raised in Northwest Washington near 18th and T streets. Dabney said he was an average student at Cardozo High School and that no one would remember him as an ambitious youth.
"It was just an average neighborhood. I played a lot of basketball there . . . Kalorama playground. I think it's still there," he said.
After high school, he went straight into the Air Force, which sent him to Germany for three years and suited him fine.
"I sent and received messages, did a little keypunch -- that's all it was," he said. "I never got into trouble. Played a lot of basketball. Forward -- there weren't too many tall guys around."
At the First American Bank Dabney rose from the teller's cage to the manager's chair in five years. With only a little formal training, he went from paying out loans to deciding who gets them.
"It's a funny feeling. When you're a head teller, all you're worried about is the line and other tellers proviing (balancing their day's transactions). As a manager, you're worried about making sound decisions."
Although he has lived in Prince George's County since 1967, Dabney "Was not involved in anything civic or community" until he became a bank manager in 1971 and joined the Chamber of Commerce.
"One of the requirements the bank had at the time was they wanted their managers to be community-involved," he said. "A lot of other managers stayed close to their own branches. I chose to look countrywide."
Between 1973 and 1977, he was succesively the first black board member, treasurer and president of the Chamber of Commrece.
Resting his fleshy cheek on his palm, Dabney relfected that being president of the Chamber of Commerce may have been the turning point in his professional and civic career. Council member Ann Landry Lombardi remembered the former Chamber president who often appeared before the council on chmaber business.
"He wasn't particularly political intimate. What he was was a fairly level-headed guy who worked hard with the Chamber of Commerce," she said. "He was a rather peripatetic president, qualities I consider admirable for a council member, I might add."
What made him decide to compete in the previously white-dominated organization?
"I wanted to see what it would lead to," he said. "The first speech I ever made before others was that June of 1977 chamber president acceptance speech."
After the Chamber of Commerce, Dabney served on the county economic development advisory committee, the board of the county cerebral palsy organization, the Metropolitan Council of Goverments Economic Advisory Committee and the board of directors of the county National Conference of Christians and Jews, among others.
Dabney's wife Ruth, their children, Claudia, 20, and Roy III, 15, have been very supportive; they almost had to be.
"When I started to get involved, I told her (his wife) what it was going to be like. She hasn't had a problem with it, or at least she hasn't yet."
He rose through the ranks of the Chamber of Commerce and the other organizations by "making a lot of friends and no enemies" and laid the groundwork for his council seat in the process.
Still, said Dabney, he had no plans to seek Francois' seat or any public office, until he read the papers.
"After those two articles hit the street, everybody was asking me if I would get in. I said I had to see what Silver Spring (the location of his bank's headquarters) said. When (the bank) said I yes, I said, 'Well, I'll go ahead and see what comes out.'"
What came out was that State Sen. Tommie Broadwater, who knew Dabney from his last campaign in which the bank manager served as a "foot-soldier," county council member of the black political leadership in Prince George's were more than ready for a third black on the council. Broadwater, naturally, is an effusive Dabney supporter.
"He has the temperament and the ability to get along with people," said Broadwater. "He's a detail guy. If he stays on the council long enough, he'll be as good as Francis, and Francis was the best. In fact, he has a lot of the characteristics that Francois had."
Using his excellent contacts in the business community, the fractious state of Democratic politics in the county and a united black front, Dabney pulled off a minor political coup.
While being a nice guy and footsholdiering in others' campaigns, he learned something of how the political game works -- perhaps more than he likes to let on.
"I learned how to get your name in something a long time ago, by watching other people who had done it," he said.
Nevertheless, Dabney knows he may now have quite a few political debts to pay for his elevation from the unknown.
What will he do when his creditors come calling?
"I don't know," he began diplomatically. "I'm not worried about it, not now.There's no way I'm going to do anything that will put me out on a limb -- especially if it has to do with this bank."
Now, Dabney must learn the job of a council member and keep a surplus of friends over enemies to help him get elected from largely white Bowie in his own right in 1982.
"I don't think it's as bad as people paint it to be," he said of his chances. "A black has never run for anything there. Nobody can tell me that a black can't get elected there. I'm going to make the people of Bowie consider me, that's for sure."
Dabney will also stay on the good side of his bank, which increased his staff to accomadate his civic duties and has now put him in a flexible business-development position so that he will have time for council duties.
Dabney admits that his activities make him and asset to the bank.
"I couldn't put a dollar tag on it, but it has increased their name before the community in general," he said.
Dabney has had little time for hobbies over the last 10 years, and he carries a little too much weight on his 6-foot-2 frame to play basketball anymore. He and his wife try to get out to a party or a movie every now and then.
They haven't even made plans for the additional $24,000 council-member salary that will about double the family income.
"As things have happened to me over the years, I've never changed," said Dabney. "I've always been an easygoing guy and I hope to stay that way.
"Besides, that two and a half years could go fast. I could end up right back where I started," he added.